Many people don’t realize that hemp is the world’s oldest agriculture crop. Almost 10,000 years ago hemp made its way into history and is retains its value today. It’s unique versatility as a crop makes us ask, ‘how did hemp come to be what it is today?’
Hemp in ancient times
- Hemp’s first use was as a crop in 8,000 BCE in the region we now call Taiwan. It then spread like wildfire into ancient Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq.
- In ancient times hemp was used in more ways than we’d think. There were actually discoveries of cords that were pressed into ancient pottery shards. People have also found ancient hemp cloth in what’s now modern-day Iraq.
- Over the next two millennia hemp became one of the earliest transcontinental trade crops. It made its way to China, Korea, and Japan. The Ancient Chinese crafted hemp into paper, which later became a textile entrusted for all kinds of texts. These texts were used to scribe Hindu, Buddhist, and even ancient medical journals.
- In 200 BCE hemp was first noted by Greeks to have medicinal properties for common diseases like earaches, inflammation and swelling in the body.
- Ancient Europe used hemp as far back as 1000 CE for rope. Hemp rope is extremely versatile and was used across from Russia all the way to the islands of Britain.
- In 1450 Muslim migrants bring hemp into sub-Saharan Africa. Then, around 1531 explorers from Portugal find out the original Bantu people have been using hemp for over 500 years.
Was hemp used in the Colonial period?
- Many people don’t know that in 1492 when Christopher Columbus’ was beginning his voyage, his crew also used hemp rope for his ships: the Pinta, Nina and Santa Maria. Even ship’s canvas sails were formed from hemp to help Columbus sail the ocean blue. The term “canvas” actually originates form the Latin word for “cannabis.”
- In 1606 hemp is planted in Jamestown. This was one of the first settlements in America, and it was used to rig ships, fuel lanterns, and create clothing during colonial times.
- In the 1700’s, the Virginia Assembly mandates that all farmers must grow hemp as a crop, adding value to the new world’s settlement. Hemp was so versatile at the time that all farmers were required to grow it. Can you imagine us doing that today?
Hemp uses in early America
- Believe it or not historians think hemp was used in the first versions of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S Constitution in
- The America’s have entire places named after hemp in the 1800’s after it was sanctioned as legal tender. For Example, towns and cities called “Hempfield” and “Hempstead” graced the lands of America for the first time.
- By the 1850’s the U.S census has about 8,400 hemp plantations with over 2,000 acres of crop on each property.
What role did hemp play in the 20th century?
- 1937 marks the first-time marijuana is seen as a mind-altering product, and Congress places a heavy tax on all marijuana, even hemp. The Marihuana Tax Act makes it more difficult for farmers to produce hemp because it becomes so incredibly expensive.
- In 1942-1945 hemp has a comeback when America develops a Hemp for Victory campaign. This allows 400,000 acres of hemp production to help support the war effort. However, this doesn’t last very long once the war was over.
- In the 1970’s hemp is prohibited from being grown and developed in the United states because of the Controlled Substance Act, which compares Marijuana with other drugs like heroin and LSD.
- As late as 1998, American government reduces some of the restrictions on importation of hemp for food and oil and this creates a renewed interest in hemp products in the United States.
What about hemp’s role in the 21st Century?
- In 2007 North Dakota farmers are given an American hemp permit. This is the first permit to be given to farmers in over 50 years. The permit to grow gives hemp a new potential for domestic growth.
- As late as 2014, the U.S Congress passes the Omnibus Farm Bill which allows Kentucky, Colorado and Vermont to develop research programs on growing hemp.
- In 2018 the U.S Congress began discussing means to remove some legal restrictions on hemp. This allowed marijuana legalization in more states in America.
- As of 2019 marijuana is legalized, has medical use and decriminalized in Washington State, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine and Alaska.
How is hemp used today?
Today the use of hemp seeds, hemp oil, and marijuana for medical and recreation use is becoming more and more popular. Hemp now boasts legalization in over 26 countries like the United States, France and Germany to name a few.
It seems that due to Hemp’ longevity, it will continue to be on the scene for many years to come. Its versatile and rich history gives us evidence that it will remain a staple crop for the world economy as soon as more restrictions begin to fall away over time.
Written by: Alex Schaffer